Guest Book Review by Dr Julie Winnard: How Bad Are Bananas? by Mike Berners Lee

Dr Julie Winnard works flexibly with clients to identify and deliver their sustainability projects, from creating resilient strategies, business cases or innovation plans, to reporting and targets for transport energy and carbon. Finding practical and appropriate ways to deliver real-world improvements in carbon emissions, other environmental impacts or risk and opportunity management.

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Dream has been poorly recently so appealed for science-related guest reviews. “How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything” from 2009 I find very interesting and useful, and just post COP26 kinda topical.

Guest Book Review –  Dr Julie Winnard

I’m a engineer-turned-sustainability consultant, and over the past ten years quite a lot of what I do has been encouraging all kinds of business people to educate themselves about carbon emissions; what matters, and what they needn’t worry about too much. With the aim of getting them to focus on the bigger stuff that they can reduce. I mostly read fiction in my own time, but I do like a good readable bit of non-fiction, especially one that distils a whole bunch of new science in a way that lets me educate myself, and that I usefully might be able to direct other people towards. This is definitely one of those.

I was sold on this book in the original intro when Mike Berners Lee (yes, son of that guy who invented the internet) -also a sustainability professional- commented he’d become fed up with CEOs angsting about how to dry their hands (the different methods of towel, paper towel and air-dryer aren’t as far apart in CO2 terms as you might expect) yet getting on planes every few days- waaay worse. Like, 10g compared to 1 tonne worse. So, he wrote the book to help people develop “carbon literacy”; basically an instinct for what matters in terms of what to change. The memorable title comes from the fact that if you’re green, you might worry about shipping bananas round the planet. Spoiler alert- not a huge issue, but having a blowout Christmas? Yes, big.

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The book is not so much a narrative story but a sort of directory, starting at the smallest stuff like bananas and working up to the biggies like flying. Berners-Lee doesn’t go into lots of mathsy detail often, just gives you the main facts and a bit of explanation for each item, sometimes with an interesting anecdote about his own journey of change. Doing carbon footprints is complex, so all you really need to know is clever people did stuff with data and spreadsheets and science. If you want to know more, there are extensive notes at the back of the first edition, and doubtless the new one from 2020.

This book helped me calibrate my own greening efforts, and I use it to show clients that there are easy-to-use references out there, when they want to change for the better. Until recently I would explain that although the exact footprints change as, say, electricity grids get greener, the rough order of impacts doesn’t move that much so the original book was still a good reference. And now I know there’s an updated one with new footprints and new things in, I can’t wait to find out about Bitcoin and hopefully, avocados!

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All opinions on this blog are my own

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